Benjamin Franklin’s Junto

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Benjamin Franklin is one of my favorite American success stories.  I picture him with a    twinkle in his eye and a salacious bounce in his step.  But for all of his “Hail Fellow Well Met”  bonhomie, he was actually a very wise man with an eye to improving the future.  Take the concept of his Junto group.  (Description taken from PBS website.)

“Ben Franklin was a gregarious person, who loved sitting down and having long conversations with friends and acquaintances. In 1727, Franklin organized a group of friends to provide a structured forum for discussion. The group, initially composed of twelve members, called itself the Junto.

The members of the Junto were drawn from diverse occupations and backgrounds, but they all shared a spirit of inquiry and a desire to improve themselves, their community, and to help others. Among the original members were printers, surveyors, a cabinetmaker, a cobbler, a clerk, and a merchant. Although most of the members were older than Franklin, he was clearly their leader.

Franklin describes the formation and purpose of the Junto in his autobiography:

I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, [1727] I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.

The Junto’s Friday evening meetings were organized around a series of questions that Ben devised, covering a range of intellectual, personal, business, and community topics. These questions were used as a springboard for discussion and community action. In fact, through the Junto, Franklin promoted such concepts as volunteer fire-fighting clubs, improved security (night watchmen), and a public hospital.”

Would Congress work better if they shared interests and ideas in a social setting rather than just committees?  I don’t think large cocktail parties count.  Maximum eight people, and they follow The Junto rules of Benjamin Franklin.  We say we send the politicians to Washington to work.  But wouldn’t it be better if, before they work, they discuss, share, grow mentally, learn and cooperate?  Where did we go so wrong?

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